Because the world is always a mess, we’ve decided to look back at dystopic works and examine why they remain so potent no matter how many years have passed between their creation and now. Today we explore Drew Magary’s hit novel The Postmortal, which lacks any redeeming aesthetic qualities but nonetheless serves as a now depressingly accurate prediction of the rise of white male mediocrity in Trump America.
Just as there is no rule that says a dog can’t play basketball, there is no rule that says a bad work can’t also be prophetic. When my roommate loaned me Drew Magary’s The Postmortal shortly after it came out, I thought it was laughably stupid and poorly written. I still think that the latter criticism holds up, but I now must confess that the book, particularly its focus on white male wish fulfillment and groups of trolls seizing social power, no longer feel stupid but prescient. Maybe that prescience is even a result of how simple and crude the book is; works with more nuance might have anticipated more strategic and clever attacks on our democracy but The Postmortal knew that the Founding Fathers’ fear of the tyranny of the (idiotic) masses was going to be the inevitable cause of death for America.
Conveniently set in the not-so-distant future of 2019, The Postmortal’s basic hook is that geneticists have acidentally isolated the gene that causes aging, leading to a “cure” for death (or at least natural death, since violent deaths and disease are still common). Though the government more or less immediately bans it, that doesn’t stop millions of people– particularly rich young people whose aging will be halted– from acquiring it, wreaking havoc on our social systems and economies. Magary attempts to explore as many of these angles as quickly and efficiently as possible by making the book a multimedia affair, fusing together the journal entires and news clippings protagonist John Farrell leaves behind as a document of the period. Magary’s background is in journalism (specifically sports journalism) so the press and blog clips are far more effective than the more literary writing in the book.
Where things truly go wrong, though, is in Magary’s exploration of the problems that arise from the cure. Farrell, it must be said, is a truly awful protagonist, flatly written and selfish in a way that doesn’t come across as completely self-aware on Magary’s part. When the cure emerges, Farrell’s job as an estate lawyer is of course immediately endangered, because the need for wills diminishes as people are less prone to dying. Magary then constructs a twist in the law system, where many estate firms shift towards devising special marriage agreements that eradicate that pesky “till death do us part” angle. Essentially, Magary makes the stereotypical male fear of commitment an entire industry, and the sexist, dudebro sci-fi elements don’t stop there.
Farrell eventually gets sucked into the world of terrorist attacks on cure-friendly doctors after his roommate dies in the bombing of the office he got his own cure at. In the aftermath, Farrell spots an “unreasonably attractive” blonde running from the chaos and he becomes obsessed with her. Though the two do meet, Magary never gives this woman any actual depth, she is always merely depicted as that hot blonde (literally referred to as The Blonde for the bulk of the book), and Farrell comments on all the women in his life in similarly flat, unremarkable yet grossly objectifying ways. Even removing issues of sexism from the equation, Magary’s depictions of relationships and attraction are so bland and unthoughtful you have to wonder why Magary even decided to have a human element to The Postmortal at all when he would have been better off constructing the narrative exclusively through press clippings, where flat writing and emotional distance at least come with the terrain.
This is likely also why the only real successful element of The Postmortal is Magary’s exploration of the troll communities that emerge after the cure and wreak havoc on people who get the cure. Though these trolls are initially content to just be mischievous and annoying, they soon become a more potent force, calling themselves Greenies and branding the cured by carving their actual birthdates into their flesh or sometimes just outright maiming and killing them. The Greenies believe in a selfish notion of purity, striving for the pre-cure era where people were “natural.” That The Greenies have no real purpose or mission other than just making life hell for people with the cure is almost certainly a result of Magary’s incompetent plotting and lack of imagination, but it also works better than any of his more ambitious plot points. By contrast, the equally cure-opposed but more altruistic Church of Man cult that rises up in the book is imminently forgettable.
What makes The Postmortal so sadly astute as a dystopic work even as it completely fails as a work of fiction is how committed it is to portraying a wonderland of white male mediocrity and the eventual collapse of society as a result of mediocre white male fantasies coming to life. Farrell’s blandness and misogyny don’t stop him from getting everything he could ever want, and even when he gets eternal youth and eventually hooks up with the blonde he has fixated on he can’t change the fact that he’s a mediocre white man who contributes absolutely nothing of worth to the world. He makes a relative fortune out of allowing other mediocre white men to get out of commitments to women in their lives and the only real threat to his existence are bored trolls who take out their own entitled male rage on him. The Postmortal accidentally predicted what life would be like under a Trump regime, where white mediocrity rose to the top and threw a temper tantrum because of all the responsibilities and drawbacks that come along with that position. I don’t know what’s sadder, that such an otherwise unremarkable and shoddy book could be so topical, or that our depressing state of affairs was so inevitable.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover